As we close out the summer and are in the middle of another lockdown, the reality of where expanding Israeli startups will grow their companies abroad will continue to be a challenge in the coming months. New York’s status as the fast-emerging tech juggernaut no longer exists; with one of the highest death rates in the US, crime as a result of COVID, and the general feeling of a city that was in free fall has been accelerated by the pandemic. At this point, it’s just a fact that COVID is the great accelerator, and the decline of key cities has caused the flight of its professional and creative classes to new locations. This has manifested itself as an opportunity for emerging startup cities across the United States, particularly those in the Midwest.
The majority of tech workers, millennials, and Gen Z are rethinking their lives, and prioritizing what is truly important during pandemic times. Health, family, human connections via community, and doing meaningful work are becoming more important than just grinding it out for a little bit more money. With that, professionals in tech are looking at emerging startup cities not only offering a work/life balance, but also an environment conducive to building a high-growth startup: active VC community, talent, access to customers, and a supportive ecosystem. Work from home has changed the game, and as such it does not really matter where one plants their roots, whether that be Tel Aviv or Tulsa.
One such city welcoming Israeli startups is Tulsa, situated in the American Midwest, and home to an emerging venture and tech ecosystem. Tulsa is an energy powerhouse and is positioning itself to be a center for a number of other interconnected verticals such as energy tech, cyber, drones (defense/homeland security), and agritech. What many people in Israel may not know is that the University of Tulsa is one of the largest feeder programs to Homeland Security and the NSA, and as a result of that wellspring of talent cybersecurity foundry Team8 runs a PhD program at the university.
As Andrew Hampton, Innovation Lead for Cyber Infrastructure at the University of Tulsa states, “the University of Tulsa has partnered withTeam8 to create a cutting-edge initiative for doctoral students in cyber. TU has an established track record of trailblazing research and education of cyber professionals prepared for the public and private sectors as well as academia. This new collaboration strengthens TU’s ties with the growing Tulsa tech community through active involvement with Tulsa Innovation Labs and local corporates.”
Along with being a growing cyber center, Tulsa, under the guidance of organizations such as the Tulsa Innovation Labs is parlaying the city’s location and talent pool in the above-mentioned verticals and are acting as the glue in which to further accelerate the already growing ecosystem.
Money, talent, and location
As a result of local world class academic institutions, the Tulsa area has developed a significant amount of talent. This fact was an important enough factor that Elon Musk seriously considered opening Tesla’s truck Gigafactory in the city. This has given Israeli founders first access to the city's VCs and talent, bringing a bit of the Startup Nation ethos to the Midwest. As Susan Spears, senior investment associate at Atento Capital shares regarding venture in Tulsa, “the value proposition of locating in Tulsa is significant for companies and is the primary foundation of who we are and how we invest at Atento. We encourage companies that by locating in Tulsa, you will be First in Line. First in line for talent. First in line for resources. First in line for funding. By investing in your company, we are inviting you into the Atento family.”
Locations like Tulsa offer high-quality talent at lower costs, especially during corona when Israeli companies still need US market entry but want to seriously weigh against the costs of coastal cities. The city has put forth an intentional strategy to further draw talent with programs such as Tulsa Remote that brings in remote workers to the city and is offering them $10,000 to relocate. Cultivating talent is a priority for the city as Meg Thomas, Head of Recruiting at Atento Capital states: “we understand the importance of talent to be successful and are intentionally creating a holistic solution for entrepreneurs and companies. As an example, we’ve been able to relocate talent who wanted to escape the high cost of living in tech centers and enjoy the quality of life Tulsa has to offer. As the need for talent in Tulsa grows, we’re building a matching program by applying technology to connect local talent with employers.”
Tulsa, being an oil and gas center, also provides a significant amount of resources, as a result, there is a rising venture community and as it develops, more funds will be launched. For Israeli companies selling enterprise-level solutions, the city is centrally located, which is key when selling to Fortune 500s, many of which are located in the Midwest.
Standard of living
Work/life balance is the new normal, but for shrewd Israeli founders, they can be a big fish in a small pond, work hard, and still have a high standard of living. One’s dollar goes far in this city as well, and entrepreneurs can live in a house and a yard suited for a family, something unthinkable in New York or the Bay Area. COVID caused many of us to rethink exactly how we want to live our lives, which means a work/life balance and time spent with family and friends. The city itself has one of the largest Jewish communities in the area, so Israeli tech professionals will find a welcoming community and education system.
Building an ecosystem
As a former New Yorker, what is the most striking thing to me is the desire of the people in the city to help, and that includes offering a variety of resources such as those listed here: assistance with visa/relocation fees, free office space, help with business development, hiring, and fundraising. The Israeli tech community in places like NY and SF can be helpful, as is the community here in Israel. But in Tulsa, the Midwestern friendliness along with a real desire as exemplified in the local work ethic to build something meaningful is a powerful combination.
We are truly living through extraordinary times, and the world is changing even more rapidly than we are used to. With the decline of cities such as New York (for the time being), this is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to seek new opportunities such as Tulsa, a city that welcomes them and is determined to help them succeed on their journey.